Posted in William Rowan Hamilton

The discovery of quaternions

But on the 16th day of the same month – which happened to be a Monday, and a Council day of the Royal Irish Academy – I was walking in to attend and preside, and your mother was walking with me, along the Royal Canal…An electric circuit seemed to close; and a spark flashed forth, the herald (as I foresaw, immediately) of many long years to come of definitely directed thought and work, by myself if spared, and at all events on the part of others, if I should even be allowed to live long enough distinctly to communicate the discovery. Nor could I resist the impulse – unphilosophical as it may have been – to cut with a knife on a stone of Brougham Bridge, as we passed it, the fundamental formula with the symbols, ijk; namely,
i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = -1

Letter dated August 5, 1865 from Sir W. R. Hamilton to Rev. Archibald H. Hamilton.

The classic account of the discover of quaternions. Hamilton also notes in this letter that the Council Books of the Academy record that he had obtained leave to read a paper on quaternions, which reading took place on the 13th November 1843.

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Posted in 1801-1922 Union and Rebellion Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

Irish Kantians: Found in Translation

The Irish interest in Kant spans back to Dr J. A. O’Keeffe, whose 1795 Essay on the Progress of Human Understanding included a description of Kant’s conception of the aims of philosophy. We know little of O’Keeffe but we do know that he attended lectures in Leipzig given by Friedrich Gottlob Born, who was translating Kant into Latin. O’Keeffe’s radical leanings were manifest in the book, adding to heated English debate on Kant in 1796, and increasing the association of Kant with radical ideas in the English mind.

O’Keeffe had translated sections of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in discussing it, but the first full translation was by the Scot John Richardson in 1797, and attracted little notice. By 1819 Kant was better known in England, and Richardson published additional translations with limited impact. Mahaffy (1878, p. 207) argues for Sir William Hamilton (not the Irish mathematician), along with Semple’s translations, as the driving force in the 1830s for the study of Kant in Britain, and certainly Scottish translators and commentators were active from the late 1830s on.

Despite interest in Kant by Irish individuals such as William Rowan Hamilton (introduced to Kant in the early 1830s by Samuel Coleridge), systematic academic interest did not emerge until the 1860s. Maffahy gives an account of the birth of the Kantian school in Trinity:
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